Archived Story

Eslinger makes miraculous recovery

Published 7:27am Saturday, February 25, 2012


The Sunshine State proved to be conducive to Donny’s recovery and TBI treatment.

By Dec. 3, he had improved so much that he was allowed to move to an apartment-style living space with monitored care.

Donny and his family waited to receive a surgery date in Washington, D.C. to replace his skull.

Then, a week before Christmas, Mary announced that she and Donny would be home for Christmas.

“The best ‘thank you’ I can give to all of you who have prayed for us and supported us along this journey will WALK off the plane with me next Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in Birmingham,” Mary said Dec. 17 on Facebook.

Not only did Donny have a sizable “fan club” waiting for him at the airport, but Jemison residents also braved heavy rains to line the roads leading into town to welcome him home.

“I was overwhelmed at first,” Donny said. “The people standing in the rain at the interstate and in Jemison made me feel very humble. It was good to finally see my friends and family in person.

“Being home for Christmas was something I knew would be impossible every year in the military. I never wanted to be home under these circumstances though.”

Their stay in Chilton County lasted through New Year’s until Donny’s cranial surgery at Walter Reed.

“One of the nurses mentioned tears coming to her eyes as she read his tattoo in the early critical days and how much those words – ‘I sacrifice for those I love’ – truly meant at that time,” Mary said. “The other tattoo – ‘Persevere’ – describes this journey perfectly.”

Donny’s tattoos include daisies, his mother’s favorite flowers, and his father’s sheriff’s badge.

“The experience has been an emotional roller coaster, up and down,” Don said. “I can’t describe to you this experience. I’m very grateful for all the support.”

Mary frequently expressed similar feelings of gratitude to followers of “Prayers for U.S. Army Private First Class Donny Eslinger,” a Facebook group she created for anyone interested in following Donny’s progress.

About 4,900 people currently follow the group.

“You are a testimony to the power of the human spirit and prayer,” she wrote on Dec. 24. “You, along with our son, are the best Christmas gifts we will ever receive. We are one family among thousands who have suffered injuries in this war, and we can only hope that our story sheds some light on what these brave men and women endure every single day.”

According to Mary, Donny’s former baseball coach Jason Easterling, teachers Dwight Swindle, Robin Gray and Vickki Winslett and his friends Bronson Langston and Jill Vinzant are just a few people from Chilton County who have stayed close to the family for the past six months.

Along with numerous family members, friends, doctors, nurses and “prayer warriors,” Mary made note of four special people who took care of her when she put her life on hold to be with Donny.

Her husband, Frank, has stayed by her side since the moment she received the dreaded phone call in September.

“He and Donny are really close,” Mary said.

Her sister, Libby Ratliff, and best friend Christy Higgins both stayed up with her for almost three days straight after Donny was injured.

“My final, and most important one, is my other son Daniel,” Mary said. “I have seen him for about 15 days total the past four months. He and Donny are close.”

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